Friday, July 11, 2008

Here's what a rape claim can do to a business

The effect of a rape claim on men and boys is devastating; but such a claim can also destroy or badly hurt a business. Read the story below -- we have no idea if a rape was committed or not (although one man quoted in the story somehow knows for certain that it happened). After the manager and chef were charged with rape, the restaurant at issue was forced to close for more than a month; it apparently lost its liquor license; and its business has been badly hurt.

Business has been hurt because the news media broadcast the name of the men accused and their business even before a conviction. The accuser retains her anonymity.

The manager was personally so traumatized by the charge, he's afraid to talk to anyone and doesn't think he'll ever be normal again.

Having a rape charge hanging over an innocent man or boy is among the most devastating things imaginable to an individual. The trauma caused is undeniable and almost unimaginable -- men reduced to tears, unable to face people, their stomachs tied in knots as the waiting often extends for months and sometimes years.

Less well-known is the financial impact of a rape claim against the owner or other key businessman on their business. The story below deals with that situation.

And if it turns out the claim was false, in all likelihood the restaurant will never be able to recover against the woman who told the lie. She's probably financially immune from liability.

Just another example of the unique power a woman possesses to destroy the lives of a man and his loved ones, and -- yes -- his business, too.


After rape claim, Fatty's tightens its Beltbuckle; Revived RP eatery sinking as manager, chef contend charges

By Meagan O'Connell

July 10, 2008 12:54 PM

In case there was any doubt, rape allegations can have a devastating effect on a restaurant's business.

Fatty Beltbuckles reopened July 5, several weeks after the family themed Rocky Point barbecue joint closed its doors in the wake of sexual assault charges against manager George Leodis and chef Michael Kontanis.

The two were charged with committing first-degree rape and a first-degree criminal act against a former waitress in a restaurant bathroom May 14; they've both pled not guilty and were due back in court this week for pretrial conferences.

The Route 25A restaurant first opened in March, but closed shortly after Leodis and Kontanis were charged May 20. When it reopened last week, it did so without its liquor license, without Kontanis and with a 90 percent decline in business, according to Leodis.

The manager said he's tried to revive the eatery by reducing business hours, operating on "a shoestring budget" and even offering a 20 percent discount for kids in Little League uniform, but so far, it hasn't worked.

"Parents basically boycotted the place," he said.Bartender Pat Debernardi said the restaurant was once bustling with customers, but "once we hit the airwaves, it was like turning off a light switch."

Kontanis' departure has nothing to do with the rape charges, according to Leodis: Fatty Beltbuckles basically couldn't afford his salary anymore. Nearly all of the restaurant's other employees remain on staff, however, and several expressed hopes that the eatery would recover.

Waiter Sean McGovern said he's confident in the restaurant, and is even willing to take a pay cut to show his support.

"George always had my back, and I've always had his back," said McGovern, who expressed doubts about the rape charges.

Other workers in the restaurant's Crossroads Plaza shopping center offered mixed opinions on the alleged rape. Steven Brucato, a cashier at the Dollar Tree, said he believes the allegations are true. "I couldn't picture someone making up a lie to cause that much trouble," Brucato said. "It makes me nervous that I could be accused of something like that."

But Dollar Tree coworker Kate Vosper, who said she knows people who work at the restaurant, trusts that Leodis and Kontanis have committed no crimes, and noted she doesn't feel any less safe working in Crossroads Plaza since the rape claims surfaced.

Other plaza merchants refused to comment this week, but it appears they'll have other chances: As the criminal case winds its way through the courts, Fatty Beltbuckles will remain open for business.

"We're here to stay," promised Leodis' wife Argie Leodis, who's listed as the restaurant owner, "and we're gonna put up a fight."

But overcoming Fatty Beltbuckles' suddenly negative image is proving difficult, even for a place where customer comment cards once referenced a "great vibe" and excellent service. "They treat you like royalty," noted Terry, a regular customer who refused to give his last name.

But it might be possible. Ellen, a first-time customer who also declined to give her last name, said she was unaware of the allegations before dining at the restaurant, but was attracted by its "happy name" and pleased enough with the food and service to come again.

A harder challenge may be restoring personal images, should Leodis and Kontanis be exonerated in a court of law. Leodis, who noted he's considering false-accusation charges against the former waitress, said he used to enjoy talking to people, but is now traumatized by the idea of talking to anyone.

"I want to be able to walk down the street," he said. "I don't think I'll ever be normal again."